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Manuscripts by Subject - Indians of North America- #10513

Title: Fort Berthold Indian Reservation
Dates: 1874-1963
Collection Number: MSS 10513

Quantity: 1 foot

Abstract: Consists of a registry book containing names of agency visitors and an Indian census arranged by tribe (original and transcribed); an order issued by the agency superintendent restricting tribal dances and travel; correspondence, pamphlets, programs, drawings, printed material, and photographs that belonged to Roanna F. Challis, teacher with the Congregational Mission, ca. 1889-1892; a photocopy of the disbursing agent's journal, a record of daily events at the reservation; and miscellaneous printed materials and articles relating to the Reservation and the Congregational Mission.

Provenance: The State Historical Society of North Dakota acquired the Fort Berthold Disbursing Officers’ Diary and the papers of Roanna F. Challis from Bernice Houser on behalf of the Sanish Historical Association on Feb 1, 2013. A note with the collection states that these materials were given to the Sanish Historical Association in 1983 by Maurene (Mrs. Robert) Miller of SC. She found them while cleaning out her Grandmother’s home in Freeborn, MN. Another note with the collection by Lola Seath Smith (Golden, CO) states that Roanna Challis was her great aunt and a sister of her grandmother, Lucy Challis Seath (dated May 27, 1999). Bernice Houser signed a gift agreement on Feb 1, 2013.

Miscellaneous items relating to the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation were removed from the SHSND Vertical file and added to the collection. These items are located in box 1, folder 4. The Fort Berthold Indian Agency Records, 1874-1875, 1899, 1922 (MSS 20072), was added to the collection and is located in box 1, folder 1. Emily Schultz processed the collection and prepared this inventory in January 2013.

Property Rights: The State Historical Society of North Dakota owns the property rights to this collection.

Copyrights: Copyrights to this collection remain with the donor, publisher, author, or author's heirs.  Researchers should consult the 1976 Copyright Act, Public Law 94-553, Title 17, U.S. Code or an archivist at this repository if clarification of copyright requirements is needed.

Access: This collection is open under the rules and regulations of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Citation: Researchers are requested to cite the collection title, collection number, and the State Historical Society of North Dakota in all footnote and bibliographic references.

Transfer: No material has been transferred from this collection.

Related Collections:       
10005 Charles Lemon Hall Papers, 1879-1938
10049 Garrison Dam Closure Committee
10166 Gilbert Livingstone Wilson Papers, 1915-1916
10259 Indian School Census Reports
10286 Harold W. Case Papers
10312 Austin Engel Jr.
10335 Frances Densmore Papers
10511 Three Affiliated Tribes. Tribal Business Council Records
10557 Lee Mohr Photograph collection
10608 Ben Reifel Papers
10781 Garrison Dam Relocation Oral Histories
10860 William Leingang Jr. Mobile Video Productions
10924 Northern Plains Conference of the United Church of Christ
10968 Alan Woolworth Papers
20194 United States Court of Indian Offenses
20555 United States Indian Claims Commission
20566 Shirley Norum Papers
20667 United States Volunteer Indian Scouts. Fort Berthold Post No. 1
20670 Fort Berthold Indian Fair Records
20717 Eric Jacobsen Papers
21085 Hopkins Family Papers, 1917-1924
“A Short History of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation” by Ralph M. Shane, North Dakota History, Vol. 26, no. 4, Oct 1959

“The Fort Berthold Reservation is inhabited by three tribes of Indians, now known as the Three Affiliated Tribes. The Three Tribes are the Mandans, the Arikara, and the Gros Ventre [Hidatsa]. The Mandans and the Gros Ventre [Hidatsa] first came to live in the present reservation area in 1845 when they moved up the Missouri River from villages at the mouth of the Knife River to help build, and settle around, the fur trading post of the American Fur Co. The fur trading post was named in honor of a founder of the company, a Tyrolese named Bartholomew Berthold. This post was built in a bend of the Missouri River, called by the Indians, “Like-a-fish-hook Bend” and the Indian village that grew up around the post was known as the Like-a-fish-hook Village. Like-a-fish-hook Village was approximately six miles west from the Eastern-most boundary of the present reservation and on the North Side of the river. The Arikara tribe moved up and joined the Mandans and the Gros Ventres [Hidatsa] in 1862, and the three tribes have lived continuously on the area now designated, as the Fort Berthold Reservation since that date… (p. 181)


Lewis and Clark found the Hidatsa and Mandans at the mouth of the Knife River and the Arikara at Cottonwood Creek in South Dakota a short distance below the North Dakota line. Our accounts of the history of the Three Tribes before the trip· of Lewis and Clark are ragged and little is available as to events except as was passed by word of mouth and accuracy was lost as it was repeated. But with the coming of the fur trading posts a record of their history has been kept.

In 1822 the Rocky Mountain Fur Co. was organized by General Wm. H. Ashley with a license to trade on the Upper Missouri. A post was established that year at the mouth of the Yellowstone under Major Andrew Henry. In March of 1823 General Ashley organized a second party to take supplies to the post from St. Louis. It was planned to stop at the village of the Arikaras and trade with them for horses which would be used to take part of the supplies overland. The trading was completed and Ashley was ready for departure on the morning of June 2, 1825. At about 3:30 in the morning Ashley was awakened with the news that the Arikaras had killed one of his men. At dawn the Indians attacked and Ashley's forces were dispersed and dropped back down the river. Col. Henry Leavenworth, in command of the military garrison at Council Bluffs was informed and he marched immediately against the Arikaras.

On June 22, Leavenworth set out with 220 troops, reinforced by Joshua Pilcher and men from the Missouri Fur Co. General Ashley joined in and so did foul' or five hundred Sioux. In all, between eight and eleven hundred men moved upon the Arikara villages. But the fighting was only half hearted and Leavenworth attempted to negotiate peace without victory. The Ankara left their homes under cover of darkness and moved on up the river, and the attackers burned the abandoned village. It was by no means a victory for Leavenworth.

President James Monroe determined to pacify the restlessness that was evident among the tribes on the Missouri after the War of 1812. He sent Major Benjamin O'Fallon of the Indian Service with General Henry Atkinson of the Army to conclude treaties with the Indians. With an escort of 476 men, the Commission arrived at the Arikara Villages on July 15, 1825 and concluded a treaty in which the Arikara agreed to remain at peace with the Whites. The Commission moved on up to the Mandan Villages and concluded the same treaty with the Mandans and the Hidatsas.

By Act of July 9, 1832 liquor was absolutely prohibited in the Indian Country. The fur traders became expert in wholesale smuggling and bootlegging. McKenzie brought in a distillery to Fort Union in 1833 and purchased corn from the Mandans and Hidatsa for distilling corn liquor. Nathaniel J. Wyeth, Yankee adventurer and trader on the Columbia River, stopped at Ft. Union for three days on his way east in Aug 1833. He was wined and dined with true fur trader hospitality but when he went to settle the bill, he found the charges exorbitant even for the frontier. He said nothing, paid his bill, and then reported the distillery when he reached Ft. Leavenworth, and thus ended the distillery business quickly.

The great plague of smallpox struck the Three Tribes in June of 1837, and this horrible epidemic brought disaster to these Indians. Francis A. Chardon's Journals state that on July 14 a young Mandan died of smallpox and several more had caught it. The plague spread with terrible rapidity and raged with a violence unknown before. Death followed in a few hours after the victim was seized with pain in his head; a very few who caught the disease survived. The Hidatsa scattered out along the Little Missouri to escape the disease and the Arikara hovered around Ft. Clark. But the Mandans remained in their villages and were afflicted worst; they were afraid of being attacked by Sioux if they ventured out of their villages. By Sept 30 Chardon estimated that seven-eighths of the Mandans and one-half of the Arikara and Hidatsa were dead. Many committed suicide because they felt they had no chance to survive. Nobody thought of burying the dead; death was coming too fast and everyone still living was in despair. The scene of desolation was appalling beyond the conception of the imagination. The Mandans were reduced from 1,800 in June to 23 men, 40 women, and 60 or 70 young people by Fall. Their Chief, Four Bears, had died.

This was the second epidemic of smallpox among the Mandans. About seventy years before an epidemic cut their population in half, and they abandoned their villages at the mouth of the Heart River and moved up to the Knife River. Faced with extinction now, the thirty remaining families moved up the river three miles and built new lodges. Their tribal organization could no longer be maintained; they lived partly with the Ankara and partly with the Hidatsa, but they had difficulty agreeing with the Arikara and by 1839 they were living exclusively with the Hidatsa. The Hidatsa and Mandans crossed to the East side of the Missouri, and little by little climbed the river until they reached Like-a-fish-hook bend by 1844. The American Fur Co. post was moved to Like-a-fish-hook Village the following Spring when the steamer came up.

In 1842 the American Fur Co. established a humanitarian policy toward the Indian trade and advocated reform in the liquor traffic for the trade. It made a shrewd maneuver in securing the revival of the Upper Missouri Sub-agency for these tribes and the appointment of one of its own most experienced traders, Andrew Drips, as the new agent. The move was made to eliminate liquor traffic in the trade and without liquor, American Fur, was almost without competition. But dissension developed among fellow employees of the company and an attempt on Alexander Harvey's life was blamed on Chardon and others but no prosecution was made. Harvey went to St. Louis in revenge and charged Chardon and others with violations of the prohibition law. Andrew Drips ordered Chardon, and others accused, removed from the Indian Country, but as a result was removed from his office in 1846.

The original reservation was established for the Gras Ventre, Mandans, and Arikara by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851. At this same treaty conference; reservations were established for the Sioux, Dahcotahs, Cheyennes, Arapahoes, Crows, and Assiniboines. The reservation set aside for the Three Tribes was described thus:

‘Commencing at the mouth of the Heart River; thence up the Missouri River to the mouth of the Yellowstone River; thence up the Yellowstone to the mouth of the Powder River, in a Southeasterly direction to the headwaters of the Little Missouri River; thence along the Black Hills to the head of Heart River; and thence down Heart River to the place of beginning.’

The treaty was negotiated at Fort Laramie in Wyoming on Sept. 17, 1851.

Father DeSmet accompanied the Ft. Berthold delegates to the council. Four Bears signed for the Hidatsa; Iron Bear signed for the Arikara; and White Wolf for the Mandans.

In the same year as the treaty, 1851, a. cholera epidemic ravaged the Three Tribes, no doubt brought in with the trade goods on a steamboat. The Arikara were the hardest hit, an estimated three hundred deaths occurring before the epidemic subsided in October.

In 1858 construction began on an opposition post at Fort Berthold. The new post, named Fort Atkinson was constructed near the Southern edge of Like-a-fish-hook Village and was operated by Chas. Larpenteur, Jefferson Smith, Robert Lemon, and Henry A. Boller. The new post was 120 feet square and consisted of a row of four houses of hewn timber. The first, the ‘Indian Room,’ was for the accommodation of Indian visitors. Here the pipe was kept and the interpreters, Pacquenode and Malnourie, dwelt with their Indian wives and children. The second building was the men's quarters and the third was the house of the Bourgeois or head trader, the most comfortable building in the fort. The buildings were washed inside and out with white clay abounding in the area. The fourth building was on the opposite side of the area and of similar length as the other group. This building was a storehouse in three compartments, the first with counter and shelves used for the trade and the other two for bulk storage. A stockade of hewn timbers 16 feet high surrounded the fort and bastions stood at the Southwest and Northeast corners. Each picket in the stockade was set three feet into the ground, and secured at the top by a heavy sill. In 1862 the American Fur Co. bought the rival post, Fort Atkinson, and when the Sioux burned Fort Berthold on Dec. 24, 1862, Fort Atkinson was occupied and renamed Fort Berthold.

The site of Like-a-fish-hook Village has been inundated in the Garrison Reservoir. The Smithsonian Institute excavated the site of Fort Atkinson and part of the old village during the summers of 1952 and 1953. In June, 1954, the site of the original Fort Berthold, built in 1845 and burned in 1862, was discovered. Fearing inundation within a couple months, the Smithsonian Institute and N. Dak. Historical Society made a hurried excavation of this site to salvage for posterity as much information relative to the old fort as was possible in the short time available.

In the winter of 1861-62, the Arikara moved into temporary quarters above Fort Berthold. In March of 1862 they moved across the river from Fort Berthold and began construction on a permanent village on the prairie. But before the village was completed or their first crop of corn harvested, they were attacked by Sioux. In Aug they moved across the river again and joined the Hidatsa and Mandans for security from the Sioux. This was a permanent union of the three tribes.

The Civil War broke out in 1861 and was keenly felt in the Indian country. It seemed for a time that war would break out between Great Britain and the United States. The British posts in Canada induced the Indians to trade across the line and tried to incite the Indians against the American posts, promising them that in due time they would be provided with arms and aid to expel the Americans from the Indian country. The result was increasing raids of the Sioux and general turmoil.  The U. S. Government had its hands full with the Civil War and was unable to protect the frontier in the Indian country. William Jayne, ex-officio Superintendent of Indian Affairs of Dakota Superintendency reported in 1862 that the Fort Berthold Indians, who are about the only tribe belonging to this agency who have been and remain sincerely friendly to the government, are repeatedly attacked by the Sioux. During one of these Sioux raids, the beloved Hidatsa Chief, Four Bears, was killed while swimming in a creek one mile from the village.

In Aug 1863, a mackinaw boat from the gold mines of Montana stopped at Fort Berthold with some twenty persons aboard including one woman and two children. The party showed Gerard the false bottom in their boat which concealed gold valued at $75,000 to $100,000. Gerard advised them to wait at Fort Berthold until the Sioux had crossed the Missouri to the West but the miners ignored the warnings thinking Gerard had extortion in mind. They proceeded down river to the mouth of Burnt Creek, just north of the Railway Bridge at Bismarck, where an old Indian fishing near a sand bar signaled them to stay in the middle of the river, but he was promptly shot by a rifle from the boat. Sioux then swarmed aboard the boat and killed all aboard. The Arikara reported hearing rifle fire down river and Gerard suspected what had happened. He sent two Indians, Soldier and Howling Bear, to the scene. They found the naked and slashed bodies on a sand bar, and the gold dumped from sacks into a pile. They gathered up what they could and carried it back to Gerard.

In Aug, 1862, the Sioux uprising in Minnesota killed many whites all along the frontier.  General Henry H. Sibley was sent to deal with the Santee Sioux but he made little effort to distinguish guilty Indians from the others. A general Sioux uprising spread over the Upper Missouri, and the Sioux contacted the Fort Berthold tribes for an alliance. The meeting was held at a ravine about three miles from the post and the three tribes refused alliance against the Whites and a battle ensued  in which nine Sioux were killed and only two Hidatsa. The three tribes were in a helpless position and near starving according to the report in Aug, 1863, of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, the price of friendship to the Whites.

Commissioner of Indian Affairs, W. P. Dole, urged Father DeSmet, in the summer of 1864 to contact the Sioux and prevail upon them to make peace. Fort Berthold was to be Father DeSmet’s headquarters and when he arrived he found Sioux war parties in the area. He was gravely concerned about the welfare of the three tribes. He had difficulty in arranging meetings with the Sioux chiefs but on June 29, 1864, a band of thirty-five Sioux came to the fort to make retribution for some stolen horses to the Fort Berthold Indians and to induce the Three Tribes to join them in the war against the Whites. This gave Father DeSmet an opportunity and he induced the Sioux to bring their chiefs to Fort Berthold to smoke the pipe of peace. Accordingly three hundred Sioux headed by Chiefs Red Dog and Black Eyes arrived at Fort Berthold on July 8 and a council was held on board the Steamer Yellowstone, and Father DeSmet convinced them that they should seek peace. DeSmet rushed down river and unexpectedly encountered General
Sully, in camp above the mouth of the Cannonball Hiver, determined to fight the Sioux rather than negotiate peace. DeSmet went down to St. Louis discouraged, and abandoned his peace mission.

General Sully routed the Sioux in the Battle of the Killdeer Mountains, destroyed their winter stores, and developed more hatred for the white men. Sully crossed over to the Yellowstone River, followed it down to the Missouri, crossed over to the north side, and came down to Fort Berthold, arriving on Aug 29, 1864. He detached a company of his men and left them as a garrison for the post. On his return to Fort Berthold on Aug. 8, 1865, he directed the evacuation of Fort Union, and Fort Berthold became the outlying garrison of the Upper Missouri until the establishment of Fort Buford in 1866. The military occupation of Fort Berthold was terminated on June 14, 1867, when the troops were moved to New Fort Berthold seventeen miles east, just established and constructed. New Fort Berthold was later named Fort Stevenson.

By the Fort Berthold Agreement of 1866, the Three Tribes ceded the following tract of land: ‘Beginning on the Missouri River at the mouth of Snake River, about thirty miles below Fort Berthold, thence up the Snake River and in a northwest direction twenty-five miles, thence southwardly parallel to the Missouri River to a point opposite and twenty-five miles East of old Fort Clark; thence west to a point on the Missouri River opposite to old Fort Clark; thence up the Missouri River to a point of beginning.’ White Shield for the Arikara, Red Cow for the Mandans, and Crows Breast for the Hidatsa or Gros Ventre were the chiefs who signed the Agreement of 1866.

The Northwest Treaty Commission in negotiating for the Agreement of 1866 was directed to facilitate right-of-ways for the expansion to the gold fields of Montana. It was conjectured that a trade highway would follow the east side of the Missouri and join the route from St. Paul at the bend of the Missouri at the mouth of the Snake River, and the above-described cession from the Fort Berthold Indians was desired for the right-of-way for this junction. Annuity payments of $10,000 for the Arikara, and $5,000 for each of the Mandans and Gros Ventres, and $200 each for the head chiefs were agreed upon.

The Fort Buford Military Reservation was established by executive order of 1868 (G.O. No. 21, Headquarters, Dept. of Dakota July 16, 1868) reducing the Fort Berthold Reservation further by 98,645 acres. The Executive Order of Apr 12, 1870, was a result of Indian complaints that white wood cutters were coming on their lands and selling wood to steamboats. They requested protection. Investigation showed that the Treaty of 1851 at Fort Laramie had never been ratified, so it was ruled that no reservation existed for the Three Tribes. The Executive Order of 1870 described the reservation thus: ‘From a point on the Missouri River four miles below the Indian Village of Fort Berthold in a N. E. direction three miles (so as to include the wood and grazing around the village), from this point a line to run so as to strike the Missouri River at the junction of the Little Knife River with it, thence along the left bank of the Missouri to the mouth of the Yellowstone River, along the south bank of the Yellowstone River to the Powder River, up the Powder River to where the Little Powder River unites with it, thence in a direct line across to the starting point four miles below Berthold.’ The Executive Order of 1870 trimmed a large part of the drainage area around the headwaters of the Little Missouri and skirting the Black Hills, from the area described by the Laramie Treaty of 1851.

Throughout the 1860s, the Sioux made frequent and regular raids on the Three Tribes, and the plight of the Three Tribes became worse and worse. They were impoverished and often times starving. To make matters worse the Fort Berthold Indians were the victims of incredible corruption which was the order of the day for both the government agents and the fur trading companies. The agents came to Fort Berthold to distribute the annuity goods delivered by steamer. But they made the Indians wait a couple days after unloading the goods before distribution was made, and in the meantime boxes had been opened, goods removed for sale through the post, and condemned flour from the traders stock substituted for new flour, etc. The practices were outrageous. White Shield, venerable old chief of the Arikaras, refused to sign receipt for the annuity goods, to which Agent Mahlon Wilkinson became infuriated, declared White Shield deposed from the dignity of chief and ineligible for his $200 Chief's Annuity. Wilkinson told White Shield, ‘My friend, you are getting too old; age troubles your brain and you talk and act like an old fool.’ White Shield answered, ‘I am old, it is true; but not so old as not to see things as they are. And even if, as you say, I were only an old fool, I would prefer a hundred times to be an honest red fool than a stealing white rascal like you.’ In 1868 the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Dakota memorialized Congress to turn over to the States and Territories the administration of Indian Affairs, in view of the inefficiency and corruption rampant in the Indian Bureau. The Northwestern Treaty Commission to the Upper Missouri pointed out the need for revision of Indian laws. It pointed out practices of ‘false weights, measures, and false-bottomed cups.’

On May 1, 1868, ten of the Arikara were enlisted as scouts for the army contingent stationed at Fort Stevenson. From this date until after the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876, there were scouts from the Three Tribes enlisted in the U. S. Army Service. But not a single one of the scouts who served with Custer was ever able to draw even a token pension from an ungrateful government.

About five hundred Sioux warriors attacked the Berthold village June 8, 1869. It was a savage battle in which Sioux casualties numbered about forty dead and wounded, and those of the Three Tribes about half that number. A crop failure that fall added to the severity of the situation. That winter the agent at Fort Berthold sent all who were able to go, up the river by steamer to Fort Buford and the hunting grounds on the Yellowstone River. The five hundred who were too old and feeble to go were given soup daily and kept warm by large fires day and night in the warehouse near the agency. This was the first evidence of concern by the agent over the welfare of the Indian, and Captain Walter Clifford, the agent at Fort Berthold from Sept 1, 1869 to May 19, 1871, was held in high esteem by the Indians. Joseph Henry Taylor, lifelong friend of the Indian and author of ‘Frontier and Indian Life,’ stated that Capt. Clifford was the only agent faithful to his trust. Clifford was trusted by the Indians and it was he who was sent to meet Sitting Bull in 1881 and conduct him to Fort Buford for surrender.

John E. Tappan was the Indian agent in 1873. That fall he requested that the government furnish a school house with a dwelling for the teacher; a hospital where native doctors could be kept away from patients, a new sawmill building, quarters for the agent and other employees, and two warehouses. The first school had been opened on Dec. 1, 1870 with an attendance of 22 girls and 16 boys. A free meal was served to the students but average attendance lagged to an average of 27 in the winter and less when spring came. The agent felt that the results did not justify the cost and closed the school in the spring.

In 1874 an attempt was made to remove the Fort Berthold Indians to the Indian Territory in Oklahoma. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Edward P. Smith, felt that the lands of Fort Berthold were unproductive, the climate unfriendly, fuel supplies scarce, and with flood, drouth [drought], frost, and the marauding Sioux, he suggested they would be better off in Oklahoma. A delegation from the Three Tribes went to the Indian country to investigate the possibilities in a move, but they held an attachment for their homeland and the place where their dead would remain, and preferred to ‘work a little harder and have less.’

L. B. Sperry succeeded Tappan as agent in 1874. He re-opened the day school with an average attendance of 25 boys and 20 girls. On Oct 12, 1874, the old dilapidated agency buildings burned with most of the agency records. New buildings erected included five dwellings, two storehouses, and one chapel. The new agency was erected at a site about a mile and a half east from the Like-a-fish-hook Village. School was not re-opened after the fire until Dec. 1, 1875.

Rev. C. L. Hall and his wife arrived on May 9, 1876, and built a Congregational Mission about a half mile east from the village. Some of the Mission buildings were later moved to E1bowoods when the agency was moved there in 1892, and one of these buildings has now been moved to New Town in the abandonment of Elbowoods. One half of the mission building has been relocated at the corner of Fifth Street and West Avenue in New Town to be used as a dwelling. The old Mission Church has long since served as a church building at Plaza, ND…”

“The Fort Berthold Mission, Elbowoods, ND”
By Charles L. Hall, D.D., 1923

“MAY 9, 1923, we kept the forty-seventh anniversary of our landing at Old Fort Berthold. It was a landing, for we had come a thousand miles by steamboat on the Missouri River. Still, we were in the same Dakota Territory in which we had started. We, that is C. L. Hall and Emma Calhoun Hall, had been commissioned by the American Board of Foreign Missions to begin a new work among the Rees, Grosventres and Mandans. These were three small remnants of Indian tribes that had come together at a trading post of the American Fur Company for mutual protection for the Dakota or Sioux, who raided all the country.

We had been ordained to Foreign Missionary service at the church in Yankton. President Magoun of Grinnell College, which was our nearest center of Congregationalism at the time, came and preached the sermon. Ward, Riggs, Williamson, Sheldon, Father Secombe, as well as Ehnamani, the Indian preacher, were among those who sent us forth. We got together our outfit for the new enterprise at Yankton and shipped it by boat. Dr. Joseph Ward and his people helped us very royally in our preparations. We shipped lumber to build a house, and furniture, and supplies to start housekeeping. Nearly two years on the frontier had accustomed a city bred man to “roughing it” and four years of teaching at Dr. Williamson's Mission had given the lady a good understanding of Indian character and a knowledge of the Dakota language, which would be of great help in communicating with the people. Contact with veteran missionaries had added to youthful enthusiasm and energy a little experience to deal with difficult problems, and insured the success of our undertaking.

On our arrival at the boat landing a crowd of Indians in breechcloth and blanket were out to see what the boat had brought. The village was on a "fish hook" shaped bench land, that jutted out into the river, giving a long view up and down stream. Behind was a plain about three miles wide, bounded by a line of bluffs known as the Coteau-du-Missouri. The village was a heterogeneous lot of polygonal lodges. A frame of logs was covered with dirt enclosing a space about forty feet in diameter, or in the case of a "medicine lodge" as much as eighty feet. Scaffolds for drying com were interspersed. Here and there were log cabins, such as white men build, attached as an inner room to the lodges. Indians got to the roofs of the lodges by means of notched logs. On the roofs old men sat much of their time, on watch lest the Sioux should creep through the brush, or swoop down from the hills and attack the village. A prominent feature of the place was a block house next the traders' store and corral. This had an overhanging upper story and a pointed shingle roof. It was built of logs in which were holes large enough to let a bullet pass at an approaching enemy. The old half-breed French-Ree, interpreter, liked to tell how an attacking Sioux was killed at the base of the house and pulled up by a slip noose, and scalped through the  aperture in the overhanging upper story.

The people dug bottle-shaped caches, in which they hid their winter supply of corn, squash, beans and potatoes. They covered them completely with sticks and dirt so that an enemy could not find them. Outside the village was a burying ground. Many of the bodies had been wrapped in blankets or nailed up in rude boxes and put on scaffolds. These were in various stages of decay. Skulls and other bones were scattered over the plain. A woman might be seen lamenting aloud over a skull she held in her lap. Several large high posts were planted in the ground between the graveyard and the village. Around one of these each year the Grosventres celebrated their Sun Dance. In this dance they tortured themselves, cutting the flesh, and dancing with buffalo skulls tied to skewers in their naked bodies till the flesh pulled out and freed them. There were several eunuchs, dressed as women; made so because they had failed to stand up under the tortures that were supposed to make them brave.

A long line of women went out of the village in the early morning to cultivate the fields of corn and vegetables, These fields were kept very clean, and the supply of vegetables added a needed variety to the supply of buffalo meat brought in by the men, which the women dried by cutting up in strips and hanging in the sun, or pounded into pemmican. Besides their agriculture, the women made pottery and baskets, and tanned buffalo and deer hides skillfully, and embroidered them and other things artistically with porcupine quills or beads. Men made rough beads and carved wood and pipestone, and chipped flint for arrow heads and made implements for games.

The people were friendly and intelligent and law abiding so far as they understood law; but their moral condition was low. A steamboat captain refused to stay all night by the village, saying that he would have no crew or "roosters" to depend on in the morning. The contact of the Indians with whites had been in the main degrading.

Traders had made a practice of giving whiskey for pelts. Outside of a few shining exceptions, the military, both officers and men, pandered to their vices. Disease and pestilence had found a breeding place among them and reduced them to a remnant of not much more than 1,200 souls,

There was no written language, but folklore had been handed down by word of mouth for many generations. Gods galore were worshipped with elaborate ritual. There was a continual weird rhythmical singing and dancing, there was poetry and light in spots, but in the main wisdom was “earthly, sensual, devilish.” There was no knowledge of Christ, only some perverted ideas gotten through ignorant frontiersman. Dr. L. B. Sperry had been nominated for United States Indian Agent by The American Missionary Association, under General Grant's "Peace Policy." Through his energetic work in connection with efforts for industrial improvement, they had received some beginnings of better information.

War was in the air. A Sioux war party might attack us at any moment. The boat that brought our supplies and building material, brought also supplies for Custer, who had left Fort Lincoln, opposite Bismarck, to oppose Sitting Bull and the Sioux, who were gathering on the Little Big Horn. On our way up the Missouri River a missionary, at the Cheyenne Agency, had been shot down by an Indian.
We chose a spot for our mission a quarter of a mile from the Indian village. Our white friends were at the Government Agency a mile further off. They advised us to stay near them, but we had come to be with the Indians and decided to stay near the village. Indeed, we thought it safer to be with them than with the few whites. We began our building and made a feast for the Indians to get their good will.

Several times an alarm of approaching war parties was given, and young men were cavorting about the plain on their ponies. Once, just after the Custer fight, a large band of Sioux came to the point of bottom land across the river and attempted a parley with our tribes. Three of our Ree scouts had been killed with Custer. Our people began at once to fire on the intruders. They hastily retreated, leaving much camp equipage behind.

Our first meeting was conducted through the medium of four languages. Old Pierre, a French half-breed, was reputed to understand these, and three more for good measure; but he could not make himself clearly understood in any of them. We had to begin a study of three Indian languages and of Indian signs, to be able to get the Gospel to the people. Our first singing was from the Dakota (or Sioux) hymn book. This was a strange performance to these Indians, and the young men guyed us. Afterwards they greeted us at a distance on the prairie by shouting the first words of the hymn we had attempted to sing. These fortunately chanced to be Ho Washte, and meant Good Voice. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, we told them was the meaning. Ho Washte has been the name for Congregationalism in this region ever since.

Two ladies came to help, and we started a day school for the children and a night school for young men. The women were instructed in sewing, bread making and other household arts. We helped Capt. Pratt, who came from Hampton, Virginia, with Government orders to get fifty children from reservations away to school. Late in the fall of 1878 he got away on a Missouri steamboat with the first children. This was t he beginning of the Government interest in Indian education, which has grown to such a nationwide undertaking.

Our first-born came, the first white baby west of Bismarck. The third summer saw his grave and the birth of Robert, who has since made a name for himself. The fifth season Hannah had come. Before the sixth summer, on Easter Sunday, she who had been the inspiration and strength of the work was taken away. Two motherless babies were left. In five years she had won the love of the people. She said to her husband: "You have a noble work to do, mine is done."

Five more years passed. Other faithful workers came to the mission. Each year we took away children to our school at Santee, Nebraska, to become leaders in the new way. Mission and Government cooperating part of the time, our work enlarged. The War Department abandoned the military post at Fort Stevenson, and turned it over to our use for a boarding school. The American Missionary Association found a Superintendent for us, and we put in a new garrison of a hundred Indian children. We filled the Mission home with a housekeeper and teacher, and six little Indian girls, and one small white boy who learned an Indian tongue faster than the girls learned English. In this way our Home Boarding School began.

Ten years after our first landing a new power came into the Mission when Susan Webb became Mrs. Hall. She had been at our Santee School in Nebraska for nearly eight years. She had been the mother in charge of girls there; and among them were girls from Fort Berthold that she had come to love. She had been Dr. A. L. Riggs' mainstay in the work for the women and girls, and was greatly beloved, but the new adventure and greater love called, and she came to organize and build up another Mission, about a reconstructed home. New workers had to be found, buildings put up, and the people won and redeemed from heathenism.

For thirty-six years we were companions till Nov 26, 1922. When the shadow of death came, she said: "We have had a beautiful life." Thank God that through all the hardships she could think it beautiful. It was.

Many workers have come and gone. Two noble women gave their lives.

In 1886 peace came to the Dakota country. There was no longer fear of Indian warfare. It was the fruit of Missions, rather than the work of armies. No longer fearing raids from hostiles, our Indians began to scatter out on lands allotted to them as individuals, up and down the Missouri River, and on both sides, for fifty miles, The old village disappeared. The last offering to household gods was made, as the houses became heaps of dirt, with here and there a rolling log, and a deserted cache hole. For a while a desiccated body on a scaffold resisted the weather, before it joined the dry bones scattered on the prairie. The old life was gone. The younger generation know it not. They live on ranches, and have semi-annual "round-ups"; and brand cattle and colts, They ship thousands of dollars' worth of cattle each year to St. Paul or Chicago. They cultivate ten thousand acres and raise wheat and corn and oats and beans and squash and potatoes. They ride in autos .and trade in the neighboring white settlements. They are counted among the most progressive Indians in the country.

Two of our organized churches are holding their own property, and have houses of worship built mainly by their own means. A third has a thousand dollars on hand toward a house they want to build this summer. We have another outpost twenty-five miles away that we are trying to serve. Many "weary miles" have been traveled with teams to reach points in the Indian country. Now we have autos and can cover miles fast, and have time to cultivate folks. We are building a garage with a shop attached. The shop will not only be a place to work on cars, but be a room where our little boys can be taught to handle tools.

We are putting desks, instead of movable tables into our schoolroom. This can be done now for we have a small building to use for worship, and will not have to change the room into a chapel two or three times a week. The little building will serve temporarily, till we can rebuild it or replace it with a Memorial Chapel in memory of “Mother Hall.”

Our community as well as school need the larger building for worship and recreational and educational purposes. Our school is full to capacity all the time, and has a waiting list, or rather a list of those we have to turn away, who are lost to us. Our pupils are mainly of the second generation, their parents, one or both, having been with us before them.  We shall try to crowd thirty into our building this fall. We have visions of a boys’ building, and a home for our farmer. That must wait till our chapel can be built, and our schoolroom is equipped with a stove and a small piano. We are “inching along,” as we have always done, these forty seven years. Seven years we were under the Foreign Board, forty under the A. M. A.

Mr. and Mrs. H. W. Case have taken hold of the work with enthusiasm. Miss Deborah Hall is trying to fill her mother’s place, as well as one she has made for herself. Miss Kate Gillette, for many years our faithful native helper, stays by. We hope to secure the other helpers needed before the opening of the fall term.

Our problem has changed from contact with isolated heathenism to the more acute one of the impact of a civilization that is only nominally Christian with a people in a half-way stage of development.

We have the problem of competing churches, and erratic propaganda, as in white communities, in addition our own. But we are trusting to our Lord Jesus Christ to get men to love Him, and one another, and so escape from sin and its consequences.

Many from among our tribes have passed on and left a splendid record of faith in Christ and Christian living. Some remain, still struggling to life the Christ life.

Who will help them, and us, to get the victory?


Roanna F. Challis was born Nov 29, 1855 in Massachusetts to Seth S. (1822-1905) and Ann Julia Challis (1821-1921). Both of Roanna’s parents were born in Vermont. Roanna had two sisters, Lucy and Polly. By 1860, the family had moved to Orford, New Hampshire. Roanna completed elementary school through eighth grade and by 1880 was employed as a teacher in Hartland, Freeborn County, MN. In 1885 she was the teacher of the Geneva Village School.

Roanna moved to Fort Berthold, probably in 1888, where she was employed with the American Home Missionary Society. She worked as Matron in 1889 and by 1891 was a teacher. She worked at Fort Berthold at least until 1892.

In 1910, Roanna and her mother were living in Freeborn, MN. By 1920, Roanna and her mother were both living with Roanna’s sister Lucy and her husband I. H. Seath in Freeborn. Challis was working as a servant for Frank M. and Elsie L. Martin in Minneapolis in 1930. In 1940, Roanna was a resident of the Jones Harrisson Home (Home for the Aged) in Minneapolis, MN. Roanna Challis died Apr 21, 1943, in Minneapolis. She is buried in the North Freeborn Cemetery, Freeborn, MN.


1940 United States Federal Census
1930 United States Federal Census
1920 United States Federal Census
1910 United States Federal Census
1900 United States Federal Census
1880 United States Federal Census
1860 United States Federal Census
The American Missionary (Jan. 1891), Vol. XLV, No. 1, p. 71
Congregationalism in Minnesota, 1851-1891, Archibald Hadden, p. 25
Find A Grave. www.findagrave.com. Accessed 22 January 2013.
Freeborn County Standard (Albert Lea, MN), Apr 8, 1885, p. 1
Fortieth Annual Report of the American Missionary Association, 1892
“Indian Mission Staff members,” Access Genealogy. www.accessgenealogy.com. Accessed 22 January 2013.
Minnesota Death Index, 1908-2002

Box 1:
1 Fort Berthold Indian Agency Records, 1874-1922 (Formerly 20072):
Registry book containing names of agency visitors and an Indian census arranged by tribe (original and transcribed), 1874-1875, 1899
An order issued by the agency superintendent restricting tribal dances and travel, January 30, 1922 (copy, original removed for exhibit, March 1985)

2 Records of Roanna F. Challis, 1890s-1933 (see also box 4):
“Among the Ghost Dancers,” R. F. Challis, Fort Berthold, January 19, 1891 (printed in an unidentified newspaper, might be The Virginia Enterprise)
“Life at Fort Berthold,” R. F. Challis, Fort Berthold, ca. June 1892 (printed in an unidentified newspaper, might be The Virginia Enterprise)
“Lakota Congregational Winyan Okodakiciye Woiciconze Na Woope. Constitution and By-Laws” (Women’s Missionary Society?), ca. 1890s
“Scripture Selections…and Hymns in the Gros Ventre Language,” 1895
Congregational Work (Boston, New York and Chicago), Vol. 12 no. 4, Apr 1908
“The Most Successful Mission of the American Board” booklet, Rudolf Hertz, Santee Normal Training School, 1921
“Early History of Mission Station on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation,” C. L. Hall, Van Hook Reporter, Feb 1, 1923
“Christmas at Fort Berthold, 1876-1930” booklet, C. L. Hall and W. H. Case, 1930
“Fort Berthold Indian Mission: 1876-1932” by H. W. Case, ca. 1932
“Heroic Achievements and Prophetic Programs” booklet, Frederick L. Brownlee, ca. 1932-1933
“Hopes Blasted at Fort Berthold,” Harold W. Case, ca. 1933 (after 1933)
 The Word Carrier of Santee Normal Training School (Santee, NE), Nov-Dec 1932 and May-June 1933
“The Fort Berthold Indian Mission and Its Work, 1876-1933” pamphlet, Rev. H. W. Case and Dr. Chas. L. Hall, 1933
“Redmen Thank ‘White Father’ for Return of Rain Charm,” Hillier Krieghbaum, unidentified Minneapolis, MN, newspaper, Jan 13, 1938
“Visiting for a Day at the Fort Berthold Mission Among the Gros Ventre, Mandans and Arickara Indians Under Auspices American Missionary Assn.” pamphlet, Rev. H. W. Case, n.d.
“What I Saw in the Glimpse I Had of the Fort Berthold Indian Mission and its Work Among the Gros Ventree, Mandan and Ree People on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, Elbowoods, ND” pamphlet, H. W. Case, n.d.
“End of Drouth Now Seen for Gros Ventres,” printed in unidentified Minneapolis newspaper, n.d.

3 Fort Berthold Disbursing Officers’ Diary, Oct 5, 1907-July 29, 1912
Entries include daily events of importance, including but not limited to: losses by fire, flood death and theft; visits of inspecting officials and others; absence of the agent or employees, whether on leave, traveling on official business, or otherwise; property loaned to, or in possession of employees and timber trespasses, with names of trespassers, description of land, etc.

4 Miscellaneous Fort Berthold records (from vertical file), 1912-1963
“Premium List of the Second Annual Fort Berthold Stock and Industrial Fair to be held at Elbowoods, ND, Sept 16-21, 1912” (with notes about prizes offered by the State Historical Society for special exhibits)
“The Fort Berthold Mission: Elbowoods, North Dakota,” Charles L. Hall, D. D., ca. 1923
Department of the Interior, Office of Indian Affairs, Fort Berthold Indian Reservation road system map for relocation plan, R. M. Shane, Dec 1950
Fort Berthold Indian agency Report: Relocation Planning and Activities in 1951, R. W. Quinn, Superintendent and Agency Staff, Dec 31, 1951
“Spotlight on Fort Berthold: Picture-Story of Our Congregational Christian work with Indian Americans in North Dakota,” Ione Catton, 1951
Summary of minutes of the third meeting of the Fort Berthold Inter-Agency Committee, March 7, 1952 at Stanley, ND
“Just Compensation Concept was Unjust at Fort Berthold,” Rev. Austin Engel, Fort Berthold Council-Congregational-Christian Churches (United Church of Christ), 1963
“Resolution of the Governing Body of the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation,” January 10, 1963

2 Roanna F. Challis’ photographs:
10513-01              George Wilde, Fort Berthold, ca. 1892
10513-02              Unidentified men on horseback, Fort Berthold, ca. 1892
10513-03              Butcher, Agency Policeman, Fort Berthold, ca. 1892
10513-04              Red Dog and unidentified in horse drawn wagon, Fort Berthold, ca. 1892
10513-05              Oscar Wilde, Dr. Finney's assistant, Fort Berthold, ca. 1892
10513-06              Ernest Hopkin's children, Fort Berthold, ca. 1892
10513-07              Emma Taylor's husband and son, Willie Hale, Fort Berthold, ca. 1892
10513-08              Mary Snow and Jane Bird portrait, probably Fort Berthold, ca. 1892
10513-09              Ernest Hopkins portrait, licensed to preach Aug '16 died Apr '17 Fort Berthold, ca. 1892
10513-10              Emma (?) Taylor, Nellie Monclair, Otta Wolf portrait Fort Berthold, ca. 1892
10513-11              Dora Shelton, daughter of Bull in the Water, probably Fort Berthold, ca. 1892

3 Roanna F. Challis’ photographs (continued)
10513-12              Reverend C. L. Hall and family, Fort Berthold, ca. late 1890s
10513-13              Reverend and Mrs. C. L. Hall with children Evan and Dorothy, ca. 1900    
10513-14              Arickaree (Arikara) sewing meeting in charge of Mrs. C. L. Hall, Fort Berthold, ca. 1892
10513-15              Elbowoods Chapel and Mission House, ca. 1892
10513-16              Interior of Elbowoods Chapel, ca. 1892
10513-17              Old Mission Home, Fort Berthold, ND, ca. 1892
10513-18              Reverend Mr. and Mrs. C. L. Hall Elbowoods, ND, ca. 1892
10513-19              The new dining room at the old Mission House Fort Berthold, ca. 1892
10513-20              Stock cattle for issue to Indians Fort Berthold, ca. 1892
10513-21              Mrs. Big-Foot-Buffalo or “Good Way” with her puppy, Fort Berthold, ca. 1892
10513-22              Cotton Cottage, Fort Berthold, ND, ca. 1892

4 Records of Roanna F. Challis (see also box 1, folder 2) (these records are in fragile condition and have been digitized)

Letter from C. L. Hall, March 11, 1895 (2 pages)
Letter to Roanna Challis from former student Emma Taylor, Oct 8, 1897 (4 pages)
Letter from Mary E. Field, Fort Berthold, to the Field of the American Missionary Association, Oct 1898 (2 pages)
Letter from C. L. Hall to NDSS friends, Elbowoods, ND, Feb 2, 1915
C. L. Hall reminiscence, “Di 'tapio,” ca. 1890s
Indian Scaffold burial, Fort Berthold, 1894 (probably by a student for C. L. Hall)
“Bull-boat” of hide on willow frame, Fort Berthold, ca. 1894-1896 (probably by a student for C. L. Hall)
Fort Berthold Mission buildings, ca. 1894-1896 (probably by a student for C. L. Hall)
Elbowoods Mission House, branch of Fort Berthold Mission, 1896 (probably by a student for C. L. Hall)
Meeting-house - Independence Station - dwelling - branch of Fort Berthold Mission (Mr. Moody's), 1896 (probably by a student for C. L. Hall)
Mission House and Boys' cottage, barns etc Fort Berthold, ca. 1896 (probably by a student for C. L. Hall)
Katie's home in Short Missouri (probably by or about Katie Eagle), ca. 1890s
Probably of the Elbowoods Mission House, “the hive as it was” by Willie Hale, ca. 1890s
Probably a Fort Berthold student's drawing, ca. 1889-1892

Student and school materials:
List of Fort Berthold scholars, 1888 to 1892 (2 pages)
Fort Berthold pupils’ music program, ca. 1889-1892
Fort Berthold students' names in English and in Mandan and or Gros Ventre (Hidatsa), ca. 1890s
Names of Fort Berthold Pupils, ca. 1890s (2 pages)
Schedule of work for girls, March 8th to May 8th 1892 (2 pages)
List of former Fort Berthold pupils who are married, dead, in convent, at home, school, or unknown, after 1897
“'First Fruits” by Rev. C. L. Hall, Fort Berthold, 1889 (2 pages)
“Our Indian Sister, A True Story” (Katie Eagle) by Miss A. E. Powell (8 pages)

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